Hurricanes

Having experienced several hurricanes (growing up in the South, this is par for the course), I get the shivers at the thought of what folks in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama went through over the past 24 hours, and what they’re going to go through in the weeks and months ahead.

I remember particularly Hurricane Agnes in 1972, when we lived in Virginia. Horrific storm and flooding that took down the 99-year old Occoquan Bridge, near our home, and left major carnage in our area. I remember filling all of our bathtubs before the peak of the storm, so we would have drinking water. I remember walking across the street to the community pool, with my mom, days after that when the bath tubs ran out, getting water in buckets and jugs from a tanker truck parked there.

I remember Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which hammered New England, hitting just as I was arriving in Boston to ride my second Boston-to-New York AIDS Ride. I spent the night of the storm in parking garage in Boston, as the ride organizers tried to figure out what to do with us all. Ultimately, the bussed everyone to New Haven (our planned campsite in Storrs was under-water) and put them up in the Coliseum there overnight, with a planned short ride into Manhattan the next day. I bailed at that point, because Marcia and Katelin were at home without power and a deeply flooded basement, caused when the sump pump died with the power.

I remember Hurricane Bret in 1981, a mere Category 1 storm that skirted up the coast of the Carolinas and made landfall around Emerald Isle, North Carolina, near where we were living at the time. There were no exacuations ordered, so I stayed at a beach house there with a friend to watch. Actually, correct that: we stayed out in the sand dunes for most of the storm to watch. It was exhilirating, sure, although the next day my skin was abraded away in spots from blowing sand. Ouch. The power of that Category 1 storm up close was awesome, and makes me cringe at the thought of one like Katrina.

I can understand the allure of staying to watch a hurricane, to some extent, having done it once, with a little one. But even then, even at my stupidist, I think if the news had told me a Category 4 or 5 storm was coming with 20+ foot seas, I would have bailed out. I understand that there are some people in New Orleans and the surrounding areas who were either physically unable to do so, or mentally incapable of understanding what was about to happen to them. I pity those people, and hope they made it.

However: when I see pictures on the news of what appear to drunk frat boys walking down the streets of the Quarter at the peak of the storm, my sympathy disappears. You are extremely stupid. The human breeding pool is probably better with you gone. And if you are stuck up on a roof somewhere, I hope that the rescue teams take care of everyone else before they get to you. Teach you some common sense.

Likewise to people who build houses on shifting sand bars that didn’t exist on maps printed 20 years ago. The main reason the insurance costs after hurricanes increase every year is less from the ferocity of the storms (although Katrina is obviously an exceptional one in terms of strength) than it is because people stupidly build more and more ticky-tack homes closer and closer to the ocean in the Southeast.

Here’s a recommendation: if you buy coastal property in the South, get a 100 year old map of the area and check the coastline around your property. If your land was underwater then, or had no signs of farming, boating, fishing or residential use, odds are there was a reason for that. People have been building European style houses down there since the 1500s. For the most part, by the 1700s, after 200 years of errors, they figured out where it was safe to build and where it wasn’t. Learn from our ancestors’ mistakes. Don’t build in areas where they didn’t.

The Rebellion is Here

I’m sitting here listening to The Rebellion is Here by Hanslick Rebellion, possibly the finest band to ever call Albany home. A truncated version of this amazing live album was issued on cassette back in the mid-’90s and is one of the few tapes I ever listen to anymore. Until now, when I don’t have to anymore, because this CD restores the original concert to its full length (including the cover songs cut from the original release), with spectacular clarity and intense you-were-there vibrancy. An instant classic of its day made even classicker, with spiffy new packaging to boot. This record has my strongest, most enthusiastic and emphatic recommendation.

As does the in-process Hanslick Rebellion saga unfolding on Rebellion singer-songwriter-keyboardist Jed Davis‘s website (click the numbers under the “Rebellion” header in the left side-bar, preferably in order, duh). This is essential reading for anyone who has ever been in a band, or ever plans to be in a band. Rock and Roll 101, kids. Read it and weep.

Now . . . even more delightfully delicious is the fact that there’s a new website listed on the back of The Rebellion is Here: www.hanslickrebellion.com. When you visit this site, you will find two very interesting surprises:

1. The Rebellion is Here can be yours, free of charge!!! It is not for sale. It is for you. Press the link, e-mail Jed, and it will arrive in the mail. How cool is that? Very, very, very cool. Do it now. You have no excuse. None at all. Don’t e-mail me or talk to me or look at me until you have done it. I mean it. If you need convincing, though, you can stream the songs before it is sent to you for free. My personal fave cuts are “Big Hot Monday,” “Why James Likes Indie Rock,” “Starlet” and “Grub.” (Language warning on these cuts, for the sensitive among you).

2. The very special record reissue precedes a very special band reunion: the freshly re-formed (though not liked reformed) Hanslick Rebellion will be playing at CBGB on September 22. That’s exciting news, if you’re a person who happened to be in and around Albany at a very special time in its musical history. And it’s exciting news, if you have no idea what or who I am talking about, but you like smart, kick ass rock and roll delivered with chops and charisma. Go to the show. Go. But get the CD first so you can sing along.

Saturday Morning Meanderings

To those who say you should only lose a pound or two in a week, I saw “foo.” This morning (day six) I weighed 216. That’s eleven pounds in six days. Although, as I said at the beginning, the first ten are almost cheating, since I just put them on in the month. But, still, that’s progress towards the goal. Which actually moves forward by two days: we are leaving for Prague on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, so I don’t plan to be worrying about scales or weight while in Europe, meaning the 94 day time span is now a 92 day time span, and six of those days are gone. So there’s 29 pounds to go in 86 days. A little over five ounces a day. Two and quarter pounds per week from here on out.

I think there may be an article to pitch in this when I’m done, actually, about body image and how we respond to what we “should” look like and weigh. I took some “before” pictures on Monday, and if I gave them to people who didn’t know me and asked “Does this person weigh 40 pounds more than they should weight,” I would be surprised if very many of them answered “yes.” When I’m done (I probably should say “if I’m done,” but I feel confident), if I give the “after” pictures to people who don’t know me and ask “Is this person too skinny?”, I have a feeling the answer will commonly be “yes.” Why is that? Are the people and organizations who are supposed to be most concerned with our health actually the very ones who perpetuate the Barbie Doll/Ken look that usually gets blamed on advertisers and media types? I think it’s an interesting question to pitch, using myself as a guinea pig. (So, there, that’s a move on the “moves management” chart).

Enough on that, for now. More on Prague. Yes, we are going to Prague for Thanksgiving, the three of us plus a friend and professional colleague of Marcia’s. How did this happen? I’m sort of not quite sure, actually. Last Sunday, Marcia saw an ad in the paper with a great rate for Thanksgiving in Prague and called “Can we spend Thanksgiving in Prague?” to me while I was sitting in my office wasting time on the computer. I didn’t say “no,” and so six days later, it is reality. We don’t normally do things on whims quite like this, especially since I really don’t care for flying that much.

But . . . the one key lesson that I learned when my dad passed away unexpectedly was that life’s too short and unpredictable to not jump at things when they’re offered, and that it’s best to experience things that you want to experience when you can, since tomorrow, you suddenly might not be able to. I’ve become much less ascetic and rigid in temperment since he died, much more willing to enjoy things at face value and as they come. And, so, we are going to Prague for Thanksgiving, flying on a Lufthansa 747-400 (a plane I’ve never been on, so that’s cool too) to the Czech Republic, with a stop in Frankfort for good measure. Then back again the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Then to Asheville, North Carolina (where my sister lives) for Christmas. Then to the Pacific Northwest next April, where two of Marcia’s sisters live.

On a work front, we began the Fall 2005 Performing Arts Series at the C+CC last night. We’ve got a good schedule. Last night was something of an experiment for me, since I don’t usually start doing shows until after Labor Day weekend. The music was great, but turnout was lighter than I would have liked, so I think next year we go back to kicking things off with the Labor Day Picnic. My student employees are beginning to drift back into town (they start classes on Monday), and I am at the office this morning, resuming Saturday work schedule (which I curtail in the summertime).

I have six new freshmen assigned to me this year, after having had the core group of students who have been here since my Day One graduate last May. In a nice little piece of elegant connectedness, one of my favorite students here actually got a job at the Naval Reactors contractor facility in Schenectady where I used to be the government contracting officer and field representative, the job that actually brought me to Upstate New York and (eventually) here. Pretty cool.

Home Again, Home Again

Jiggety Jig. We had a fantastic vacation over the past week, with Marcia, Katelin and I plus two of Katelin’s friends staying up on Lake George in a rented lake front condo with all of the amenities that I care about (air conditioning, views, a swimming pool, a hot tub, a decent kitchen, plenty of space for people to spread out, good maintenance and housekeeping). If you are looking for a rental spot, we can definitely recommend The Quarters at Lake George.

It was a weird vacation for us on some plane, because in the 13 years we have lived here, we have never taken a long (for us) vacation anywhere vaguely close to home. We normally drive to Maine or to Rhode Island, or head South to the Carolinas, or fly to Amelia Island in Florida, or to New Mexico, etc. It was incredibly nice to finish a vacation and only have an hour’s drive to get home.

Lake George (the lake itself, not the town, more on that later) is probably the most beautiful and spectacular lake I have ever seen in the United States, through which I have travelled very, very extensively. (The Lake George Association has a website that nicely focuses on the natural aspects of the lake more than the commercial aspects). We rented a boat for five days, and explored the Lake from South to North, especially enjoying the area from The Narrows north to Ticonderoga. The vistas were stunning, and there were fewer parasailers, jet skis and paddle wheeled tourist boats up there. We did a 12-mile long, excellent hike on the Eastern Shore of the Lake, around the Shelving Rock Road area, including a walk up to the summit of Sleeping Beauty Mountain. (Note that the summer camp that Katelin attends, Camp Chingagchgook, is also on the sparsely populated Eastern Shore).

Such an incredible natural resource that we have visited on the short term numerous times (most often staying at The Sagamore, where we’re actually going again in October for a work conference with Marcia’s firm), but have never considered for a full week’s break. We now know better. We will go back.

Now . . . having said all this, I do have to note (and this will probably generate hate mail of a “you are a snob” variety) that while 95% of the Lake George experience is undeniably breathtaking and beautiful, the 5% of the experience that is not quite so nice is the part that is contained in Lake George Village at the south tip of the Lake. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that grosses me out about the Village (which I won’t link to, because I don’t want to send it any business), other than to note that it is a really skeevy sort of tourist trap town that mars an otherwise exquisite vacation paradise. The only other place that readily springs to mind along the same lines is Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a similar tourist trap blight in the otherwise magnificent Great Smoky Mountains. If skee-ball and wax museums and bars and tacky gee-gaws and magic shops are your thing, then those towns probably can’t be topped. But they sure aren’t mine.

If, however, you do go to Lake George (the Lake, not the Village) and one or more members of your party are the sort of folks who don’t consider it a vacation unless they have a chance to walk around and shop at little gift shops, then skip Lake George Village and go to Bolton Landing instead, about 15 miles north of the Village on the West shore. It does a much better job of mixing commerce with the natural beauty of the Lake and its surroundings, and has a much lower cheesiness factor. There are free public docks (you have to pay for the ones in Lake George Village), so you can boat up, tie off, walk, shop and eat for a couple of hours, then scoot back to your campsite, cabin or condo without feeling like you’ve stepped back into 1970s, pre-casino Atlantic City.

All told, a wonderful vacation. And I do firmly believe that a big part of taking a vacation is that it makes you appreciate your own home even more when you get back. We are having a nice, lazy weekend about the house, feeling very fond of it after a week away. It’s nice to have a wonderful place to go for vacation, and it’s nice to have a wonderful place to come home to when it’s done.

I Do Stupid Things So You Don’t Have To

And the other thing. I’m still here, not on vacation yet, just haven’t posted for a few days. I’ve been riding every day generally, but going outside of my 2.5 mile radius of Hidden in Suburbia pics, and a bit tired of carrying my camera with me and looking for stuff, as opposed to just riding. So we’ll get back to that series later. Maybe.

I meant to note at some point that while I’ve been taking pictures of the old Erie Canal (and, to give it its fair due, the old Champlain Canal as well), there also remains a current, viable, usable, functional Erie Canal to this day with several live locks in and around the area where I live. The original path of “Clinton’s Ditch” is long high and dry and (in this area, at least) and is now surrounded by the cities of Cohoes and Watervliet (if you live upstate and have an “Erie Boulevard” in your town, odds are that’s where the original canal flowed). The current Erie Canal lock system is, in fact, actually on the other side of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, mostly in the City of Waterford as far as the local component goes (plus one major lock/dam in Troy).

The high number of locks (then and now) in this area was required to get around the Cohoes Falls, a significant natural feature near the junction of the Mohawk and the Hudson. Of course, most of the time these days, that significant natural feature just looks like a giant pile of rocks, because the water that once flowed over the falls is being diverted for hydropower applications. Sometimes, though, during spring melt or after tumultuous weather, the falls roar in full force, and you can get a sense of how impressive (and daunting to boats) they once were.

I rode yesterday up the Flight of Locks Road in Waterford, which local chamber of commerce PR tells me is the world’s steepest sequences of locks still operating. It’s pretty cool to ride up to the high water point and see the route that boats still have to traverse to get from the Mohawk to the Hudson. A good article about it is located here. If you’re a local and you’ve never seen it, it’s worth a visit.

I also rode over to Peeble’s Island, a very, very cool wild area that’s part of the city of Waterford, but for years was only accessible from the Cohoes side. Last summer, I think, they finally reopened the old rail bridge to Waterford for pedestrian and vehicular traffic. I rode around the perimeter and over some of the cross island trails as well, eventually taking a break at the very southern tip of the island. (See map here).

As you can see from the map, the land/road access point to the island is on the Northeast corner. But for me to get home as the crow might fly (or the fish might swim), I would need to go Southwest from the southern tip of Peebles. I got ready to ride back up to the road when it occured to me . . . the rapids between the southern tip of the island and Cohoes had a lot of rocks visible, and the water didn’t really appear to be very deep anywhere between the two points of land.

Hmmm . . . . hmm hmm hmm . . . could I bike (or carry my bike) across the river, so I wouldn’t have to backtrack to the island’s entrance? Hmmm . . . well, I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try . . . so I did, and the answer (at least when the water level/tide is relatively low) is “Yes! I can walk from Peebles Island to Cohoes across the river rapids”. So now I know. Just in case I want to do it again. Which I probably won’t, since it was actually slower and harder than just riding back to the real road. Plus, on the Cohoes side, I had to climb a tangled bank and toss my bike over a 6-foot fence to get to the road.

I do stupid things like this so you don’t have to.

Planet X?

I was surprised to learn that scientists have allegedly announced the discovery of a tenth planet in our solar system recently . . . not from any headlines in any newspapers, not from any splashes on any main web portals, but as a link posted to a local rock band’s message board.

Why isn’t this bigger news? If this object, said to be one and half times the size of and three times further away from the sun than Pluto, is indeed designated as a planet, then this is only the fourth time in human history that man has “discovered” a planet in our solar system. (All but Uranus, Nepture, Pluto and the new one are visible to the naked eye, and thus have been observed from antiquity).

So, again, why wasn’t this bigger news? Can we only handle one space story at a time, meaning that we’re too engrossed news-wise in the current Shuttle mission to get excited about a new planet? Or have we become jaded by the discoveries of so many extra-solar planets that one in our system is ho-hum? Or is the problem the controversy over whether any bodies beyond Neptune actually merit the designation “planet”? There are many who want Pluto stripped of said title, and I would expect those who feel thusly to also deny this new body that designation as well.

It could be, I suppose, that this is not the first large trans-Neptunian body announced in recent years. There is an excellent article here about the various Kuiper Belt bodies that have been discovered since Pluto was first spotted. Maybe the presence of Sedna and Quaoar and Orcus out there past Neptune make us all collectively blase about this new body.

But not me . . . I love this stuff. I can’t wait to read and learn more about it, and hope that it does, indeed, receive designation as the solar system’s tenth planet. That’s something I’d like to see in my lifetime.

P.E. in the House

I got the new Public Enemy greatest hits collection, Power to the People and the Beats, yesterday. It’s the first time I’ve heard most of these songs in a while, and the first time ever on a clear CD mixes, since all of my PE collection was either on cassette tape or vinyl. It is truly awe-inspiring to listen to these songs, and hear how amazing and forward-looking the production, message and vocal performances sound today. Chuck D is a force of nature, and at their peak, the Bomb Squad created beats that have never been matched nor touched since their issue. The density of most of these tracks is almost unbearable at times, but that gives them a palpable sense of urgency unlike that found on any other records I can name off the top of my head. I can’t quibble with the inclusion of any of the tracks on this record, although the PE catalog is deep enough that they could have added a whole second disc to this collection and still maintained the quality level. In particular, I would have liked to have heard “Burn Hollywood Burn,” “Fear of A Black Planet,” “How to Kill a Radio Consultant,” “Move” and “Air Hoodlum” added to this compilation. But, hey, that’s just quibbling . . . and the fact that they’re not on this disc probably means I’ll end up buying the original albums that spawned them on CD as well, so that’s not really a bad thing in the grand scheme of things.